I recently received an email that immediately took my heart back to this time last year. School had just started, and my family was all caught up in the fun of anticipating a season of changes.
One of the changes we hadn’t anticipated was the loss of the smallest, furriest member of our family. Robby Dog was a 12-year-old Shih Tzu, a fluffy, tan ball who in his younger days was playful and patient, but in his later years got a little crabby when the kids tried to hug him.
I came home from work one day to find that Robby Dog had a scratch on his eye. It looked awfully painful so we took him to the vet. My husband and I never expected to hear her diagnosis: the eye would have to be removed. We also didn’t expect her next observation: Robby Dog could only see shadows out of the other eye. Removing the injured eye would mean that he would be almost totally blind.
While the veterinarian explained that dogs are resilient and can learn to live without sight, she kindly explained that we really needed to consider all of our dog’s health issues. She said it may be time to say goodbye.
Saul and I struggled with that news. We felt very torn knowing that there was something that could medically be done but that we had the option to take another path.
Eventually, we came to the conclusion that our time with Robby Dog had to come to an end. It was heart-breaking. I sobbed. Tears are running down my cheeks even now as I write this, remembering how very sad it was to hold him for the last time.
Normally in this type of circumstance, I would call my friends and they would have the perfect words to soothe my soul. Unfortunately, this time when I thought of picking up the phone, I couldn’t do it. Some little voice deep inside me whispered, “It’s just a dog. It wasn’t a child. Get over it.”
Getting over it was harder than I expected. Robby Dog wasn’t just an animal. He was a walking reminder of many tender moments in my life. He joined our family right after Saul and I got married. He met my newborn daughter at the door when I brought her home from the hospital. He snuggled right next to me as we drove to Fargo for the first time. He helped me explore our new neighborhood before I had any friends to join me.
Losing him felt like losing a segment of my life. I didn’t think there was anyone I could talk to who would understand that feeling.
The email I got recently from Amanda Thornton reminded me of that time. That’s why when she asked if I would help her thank a stranger for an act of kindness, I couldn’t refuse Amanda’s request:
“My husband and I would like to thank someone who did something very compassionate and generous for us during a difficult time. We thought this column might reach her.
“On June 1 my husband and I had to put our cat, Smokie, to sleep at the FM Animal Hospital in Moorhead. It was a very tough decision, but she had been sick for a long time and was suffering.
“Before the procedure, we paid for her to be buried in the pet cemetery. It was $110, and we had to pay in cash. We paid the money and then went back with Smokie. We stayed with her until she was gone, petting her and saying goodbye.
“Before we left, one of the receptionists came in and told us that a woman had paid for Smokie’s burial costs and handed us our money back. It was such a kind gesture, and we’ve wanted to offer our thanks ever since.”
Someone in that clinic knew Amanda’s pain and reached out in a very tangible way to show the Thorntons they weren’t alone. Hearing that story helps me understand that I wasn’t alone in my grief either. Thanks to the love of a stranger, we are all able to apply the soothing balm of kindness.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at email@example.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is an author, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Bison men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday.